May 10, 2021

Maori News & Indigenous Views

Opinion: Where is Ma Te Reo going? | Te Prophet

3 min read

(By Te Prophet) Ma Te Reo funding administered by Te Taura Whiri concludes soon. This is an unfortunate circumstance for many whanau and communities who have benefited from this funding support over the last few years. It seems that Te Puni Kokiri and Te Taura Whiri have not prepared sufficient arguments to justify the continuance of the programme. Although they are probably not the right organisations to present this case since neither agents were originally involved. The origins of this funding is also forgotten but this is where my korero may remind people of the beginning. However I am reminded that there is a Maori language review anyway and no doubt some investment into Ma Te Reo may reemerge.

In the late 80s and early 90s Te Atiawa ki Whakarongotai were gifted a cable television channel on a local television network in Paraparaumu. Unfortunately the iwi did not have the capacity to utilise this channel and Te Mangai Paho and Ripeka Evans could not accommodate any support for the iwi due to cable television not being considered in TMPs support specifications. Te Atiawa engaged Graeme Everton as a consultant who had already speculated based on his previous technical experiences that the issues raised had far more reaching implications in the future. More specifically, spectrum rights.

Mr Everton approached Whatarangi Winiata and raised the point that spectrum and information technology was not only the future but Maori in particular had a treaty right in terms of conveying and sharing communication and information based on cultural norms. Overseas experiences in spectrum allocation indicated that spectrum space was highly profitable but limited by the technology of the day.

But Mr Everton surmised and based on Nuemann’s laws that despite the slow uptake at the time of digital broadcasting it was inevitable that spectrum would become relevant in Maori society. However the only angle and precedents that could persuade government at that time was treaty cases and the waitangi tribunal as the mechanism for triggering discussion. The NZ Maori Council then became relevant as a supporting partner to engage the Crown on the issue of Maori language and culture.

As the parties engaged in political debate, in Britain at the same time the British were auctioning various blocks of spectrum to telecommunications companies such as Vodafone. Auctions were going high as $200-400 million per block. Maori argued that these prices were indicative of the NZ market however the Crown disagreed and NZ prices were less than 10 percent of the British market prices. However the point was made and Tau Henare as Minister of Maori Affairs offered a compromise. The deal was $15-20 million for Maori language and culture. $5 million was to establish a trust to manage a subsidy on certain spectrum blocks and if Maori wanted too, re-negotiate a purchase price less than 5-10% of the total. This was to incentivise Telecom and Vodafone, Telstra and others to seek commercial partnerships with Maori because Maori would have a preferential deal.

Long-story short this trust has now become known as the 2degrees story. The remaining $15 million was to be used towards the revitalisation of the Maori language and culture. The Ministry of Education thought they would be the recipients of this money but they were mistaken since they already had a deal with Microsoft and the professional development ICT programme managed by Carol Moffat.

Instead Tau informed his officials to develop a programme which would benefit Maori language revitalisation. Te Taura Whiri became the responsible funding holder and Ma Te Reo was born.

Therefore, if any particular group was going to argue the continuance of the fund it is probably best that the NZ Maori Council and Graeme Everton take this matter again to Parliament. Since the spectrum compromise at the time failed to consider all spectrum blocks and limited Maori capacity and growth in the information and communication technology marketplace. In this instance Government failed to recognise von Neumann’s law. Thats a no no these days.

Te Prophet

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